Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 25 June 2016
This isn’t the play I studied for A Level.
Well, it is, but the only bits I recognised were the first act pact with the devil and the final scene, because for his arresting production of Doctor Faustus, director Jamie Lloyd allowed the soggy middle of Marlowe’s original to be ripped out and replaced by a snappy modern text from Colin Teevan in which Faustus is a tricksy stage magician, like Derren Brown with charisma, adored by a youthful and pervy fan base.
There’s been some controversy although I can’t fathom why anyone should now care how much a 1592 script by Kit Marlowe is batted about when in his own quatercentenary Will Shakespeare is re-written and re-interpreted beyond recognition by everyone from the National Theatre to school plays.
If you’re going to thrust metaphysical speculation at the Game of Thrones crowd, it’s best to do it in plain text anyhow – although I was surprised how attentive the Throne Drones were throughout without a flicker of cell-phone light-up. It’s a sensible ploy to keep Kit Harington wet and half-naked on the stage for almost the entire performance but they were equally admiring of Jenna Russell’s calmly sardonic Mephistopheles wandering the underworld in her drab and dirtied nightie.
This is the sort of paradox on which Lloyd thrives – he’s taken the West End to task for its outrageous ticket pricing, yet top Stalls for Faustus are 85 quid, and in a play whose central theme is the vulgar baseness of celebrity culture, he procures it with a television hottie on stage in his underpants for two hours.
Underpants aside, it held my attention through even the shit-eating and rape scenes although the arm-slashing lost its shock value once I realised everyone was sharing the same fake kitchen knife that squirts fake blood.
But it’s Jenna Russell who steals the show: her sotto voce asides are priceless and her end-of-interval bantering karaoke with the audience a hoot. Although for full pantomime effect she should really have had a song sheet for ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and divided the audience into competing halves.
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